You have walked through the verdant fields, following the ever-winding path. The day stretches long, and you must find a place to stay the night. Here, in Tosantos, you come upon a humble albergue.
Inside, you are greeted by volunteers who speak only Spanish. They welcome you, nonetheless. A fellow pilgrim translates as the volunteers explain the house rules. Everyone prepares meals together, and eats together. No rising before 7 am. The house is old – 18th century – and the floors creak so much that early risers wake everyone. At 5:30, a woman comes to show you the church in the rock on the other side of the highway. You may go with her or not, as you see fit.
This is a donativo. You pay what you can, and your donation buys food and keeps the electricity on for tomorrow’s pilgrims.
You acquaint yourself with the other pilgrims, many of them young. The young seek out the donativos because they lack funds and embrace adventure. They are from Estonia, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Spain, Korea, and the US. With them, you ascend uneven stairs.
Later, you interrupt a young couple kissing on these same stairs. They turn away in embarrassment, and so do you.
Above, beams are set in the walls and ceilings with care, but not machine-like precision.
Right on time, the woman comes to lead you through town and up the hill.
You may take photos of the outside, but not of the inside, the domain of the Virgin.
It is cool inside, hewn from the rock itself. A crack splits the ceiling, and plaster clings to it. The Virgin is a humble likeness with a beatific smile, and painted jewels in her crown. She is carried through town in a procession in the fall, then returned to her home. Local wildflowers adorn her altar, a simple offering.
As in the Monastery of Suso hermits dwelled in caves in the hillside. The church was added on later, a natural sanctuary hallowed by the prayers of long-ago saints.
The caretaker urges you to look back when you travel the pilgrim road again tomorrow, and see the beauty of the church in the rock. You thank her for her care, and donate coins to the Virgin.
It is time, now, to return to the albergue. Outside, in the gathering twilight, you realize that you have gone back in time. It is quieter, here, and now. The rhythms of the earth and the sky are easier to hear, that way. Faith is real; mystery is its hallmark. The Virgin of the Rock watches you, and demands your devotion. You give it willingly, and though you lay down on thin mattresses on the floor, you sleep well as reward.
If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.